Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer today released “Led Astray: Reforming New York City’s Animal Care & Control,” a report that documents shocking failures in AC&C’s performance and calls for wholesale financial and managerial reforms of the not-for-profit organization, which manages the largest animal shelter system in the Northeast. Stringer was joined today by State Senator Jose Serrano, Assemblymembers Linda Rosenthal and Micah Kellner, Councilmember Gale Brewer, animal advocates and local residents.
Stringer’s report catalogues chronic dysfunction in the New York City shelter system: Adoptions, for example, are down 37% over six years. During the same period, the agency ramped up by 70% its reliance on so-called “placements,” a process where AC&C shifts its responsibility for animals to outside rescuers, who must then shoulder the burden of finding safe, loving homes for the animals.
The agency has also failed to take advantage of vital sources of revenue, including dog licensing, which has declined for the third straight fiscal year. A high rate of infection exposes thousands of animals to life-threatening conditions, pegged at nearly 100% of animals leaving AC&C shelters by an ASPCA Medical Director. Currently without an Executive Director, AC&C has been plagued by organizational dysfunction for decades, with eight different ED’s in the past ten years.
“New York City’s Animal Care and Control is a managerial and fiscal mess. New Yorkers cannot continue to throw precious tax dollars at a system that has proven it simply doesn’t work,” said the Borough President, speaking at a press conference where he was joined by leading animal care experts and rescuers.
“AC&C is failing to provide humane conditions for the animals in its care. It is increasingly failing in its fundamental responsibility to place animals in loving homes. And it is failing to generate additional revenues and raise sufficient outside funds that would put the agency on stronger financial ground. We need fundamental reform and the time to start is now.”
In the report, rescuers share heartbreaking, firsthand testimonials about the substandard conditions of shelters, and fatal errors made within the shelter system:
- As hundreds of cats and dogs were displaced by Hurricane Sandy, AC&C all but abandoned their operational responsibilities. They conducted virtually no field operations to locate stray animals, and closed their doors to the public and provided little guidance to rescuers, according to AC&C volunteers and rescue professionals.
- In June, Cocoa, a healthy female dog, died on the operating table at an AC&C shelter when the surgical team failed to give her oxygen during a routine operation, according to AC&C documents and an independent necropsy.
- In August, rescue group Stray from the Heart pulled a pit bull named Lacey from an AC&C shelter. It first appeared that Lacey had kennel cough, but her condition turned out to be pneumonia and required $5,000 worth of veterinary care – an all-too-common tale as AC&C routinely foists sick animals on private rescuers.
The Borough President’s report noted that the City’s Animal Control & Care board -–which is administered by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) – has been long plagued with managerial dysfunction. Nothing reflects this better than the fact that, AC&C has had eight different Executive Directors in the last ten years. On October 19, 2012 AC&C’s most recent Executive Director, Julie Banks, stepped down, and the position is currently unfilled. The non-profit has been without a full-time Medical Director since 2010.
In 2011, the City Council passed Local Law 59, a bill that allocated an additional $10 million over three years to AC&C while absolving the City of the responsibility to operate shelters in all five boroughs. The Borough President’s report concludes that in a year since the law’s passage, the performance of the City’s shelter system has continued to decline: According to the most recent Mayor’s Managerial report, the number of new dog licenses – a key strategy for raising revenue in many municipalities – declined by an additional 5% in the last fiscal year. Overall, dog licensing lingers at 10% – well below the 90 % compliance achieved by model city Calgary, Alberta, which uses these revenues to fund animal operations at no cost to taxpayers.
Beyond these systemic failures, the report points out that AC&C’s inability to raise sizable revenue from private sources has made the non-profit overly dependent on city funding, which has historically been inconsistent and inadequate. Much of this is attributable to the fact that AC&C’s board does not include members who have sufficient expertise in animal care or private fundraising. According to AC&C’s most recent reporting, it raised $56,276 from outside donors in FY 2010 – a paltry sum given the city’s passionate and highly vocal philanthropic community devoted to animal welfare. Stray From the Heart, a group run by part-time volunteers, raised $156,780 in 2010 from private funds, nearly three times as much as AC&C in the same period.
The report includes the following recommendations:
1. Save tax dollars and generate new revenues by restructuring AC&C into an independent not-for-profit modeled after the Central Park Conservancy.
AC&C must have a strong Executive Director with complete authority over shelter operations, as well as an independent board whose members have expertise in animal care and fundraising. The Central Park Conservancy offers a model that AC&C should adopt: Although the Parks Department retains policy control over the park, 85 % of Central Park’s annual budget is raised independently by the Conservancy and its dedicated board. Last year, the Conservancy raised $38 million in private funding.
2. Substantially Increase Revenue by Aggressively Promoting Dog Licensing Compliance
The City should work with State Legislators to transfer licensing enforcement from the DOHMH to AC&C, so that the any revenue raised can go directly to funding shelter operations. Moreover, the new Executive Director and Board should develop a multi-faceted approach to increase revenue from pet licensing. AC&C should work with State Legislators to raise licensing fees. Increasing licensing compliance to 30 % and raising fees to $20/$50 for altered/unaltered animals – on a par with Los Angeles and San Francisco – could generate close to $20 million annually in revenue.
3. Commit to Building Full Service Shelters in the Bronx and Queens
The reconstituted AC&C should commit to building full service shelters in the Bronx and Queens. Despite legislative changes that have relieved the City of any legal obligation to build shelters in each borough, the need for them remains acute.
“With yet another vacancy to fill in the Executive Director’s position, New York City has a unique opportunity to step back and implement long-overdue reforms for AC&C, and I urge the City to seize the moment,” Stringer concluded. “The animals that depend on us for care and survival – and their owners – deserve nothing less.”
"In partnership with the City of New York, the Central Park Conservancy has been able to breathe new life into a public park that had suffered from significant neglect," said Douglas Blonsky, President & CEO of the Central Park Conservancy. "Our model has been followed by other organizations worldwide, and we welcome the opportunity to share our expertise with Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer as he explores leveraging private resources to improve animal welfare in the City of New York."
“We support Borough President Scott's Stringer's proposal for a new approach in dealing with the City's shelter system, and applaud his vision and leadership on behalf of our homeless animals,” said Beth Silberg, President of Stray from the Heart, a local not-for-profit dog rescue organization. “The City can no longer rely on small rescue organizations like us to absorb the cost of rescuing and caring for the City's shelter animals. Manhattan Borough President Stringer's proposal is a bold and realistic approach to fixing the problems at AC&C, and deserves the support of each and every New Yorker who cares about the plight of our homeless dogs and cats.”
“In September 2011 the City Council passed Local Law 59 which was hailed as THE fix for the AC&C. A year later and we’re still confronted with the same dysfunction in the AC&C shelters,” said Esther Koslow, President of the Shelter Reform Action Committee. “The AC&C doesn’t need more patches, band aids, and promises to do better. It needs to be changed.... from the top down. And Manhattan Borough President Stringer’s proposal is the right model to do just that.”
“For many years, volunteers and rescuers have been fighting in silence for the homeless animals who suffer under AC&C's broken shelter system,” said Jeff Latzer, co-founder of Adopt NY, an umbrella group of some 45 rescue groups. “This is a broken system that even failed New Yorkers and their animals during and after Superstorm Sandy. We all know that New York City can and should do better by its animals, and Mr. Stringer's report is the light that we have all been waiting for. For the first time, the public can see a full, uncensored history of the decades of failed policies and institutional decay that has made New York City a pariah in animal welfare. Most importantly, Mr. Stringer provides a progressive blueprint of reform that if followed, will finally pull this city's shelter system out of the dark ages.”
“Best Friends, as a national animal welfare organization working in NYC and in numerous other communities around the country, is supportive of this initiative,” said Gregory Castle, Chief Executive Officer of Best Friends. “Our experience working with AC&C for a number of years confirms the main points in the report and we see it as vital to change the governance structure as outlined. Although AC&C working with private organizations in NYC has produced positive results in recent years, the additional resources that would be provided by the proposed plan will provide much increased service of the public.”
“It is our responsibility as New Yorkers to ensure the health and well being of our pets and animals in our city,” said State Senator Adriano Espaillat. “Animal Care and Control has been in disarray for long enough, and I believe that the ideas put forward by Borough President Stringer will resolve these issues by making ACC more effective in helping our animals, responsible in treating their needs as well as the needs of pet owners, and become more sustainable over the long run. Our four legged friends deserve the utmost dedication and care and I believe these steps will enable us to do so.”
"I applaud Borough President Stringer for shining a light on the systemic problems and chronic deficiencies in fundraising that have long plagued AC&C, which is contracted by the City to provide animal care and rescue services in all five boroughs," said New York State Senator Brad Hoylman "The reforms outlined in this report will help turn around the City’s dysfunctional approach to rescuing, caring for and finding loving homes for stray, abandoned or abused animals. It's unacceptable that animals are suffering and dying because of bureaucratic inefficiency and incompetence.”
"Animal Care & Control has a duty to care for stray animals and to help them find loving homes so that they can enrich people's lives,” said State Senator Jose Serrano. “Unfortunately, AC&C is no longer fulfilling their obligations and their facilities are overcrowded and underperforming. We must do more to ensure our city's animals are properly nurtured and protected. Many thanks to Borough President Stringer for putting together this report and providing a human voice to the animal population."
"The City should not be in the business of killing animals," said Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal. "It is a sad reflection, indeed, on our collective moral character if animals in New York City are viewed as disposable. Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer's proposal to revamp and reform the AC&C will change the culture of the agency and ensure that it is in the business of saving, not destroying, animals' lives. I plan to introduce legislation to codify the proposal and ensure that it has the force of law."
“I thank Manhattan Borough President Stringer for his on-going focus on Animal Care and Control,” said Councilmember Gale Brewer. “There are many problems with the Agency but the primary one is that the Administration and the Mayor should not control the Board of this non-profit. Park conservancies are good examples of this public-private partnership that lead to positive outcomes. Again, I appreciate the opportunity to participate in finding solutions to the problems now created by a dysfunctional Animal Care.
For years we've witnessed the dysfunction of Animal Care & Control. It’s the definition of insanity: following the same failed policies and expecting a different result, all while tens of thousands of animals die unnecessarily,” said Assembly Member Micah Z. Kellner. “I applaud Borough President Stringer for wanting to change the equation. Heeding the recommendations in his report will literally save countless healthy and adoptable animals.”
Borough President Stringer has been a leading voice in the call to reform AC&C in the past. In June 2011, he filed an amicus brief on behalf of Stray from the Heart, an animal advocacy group that sued the City to comply with existing law mandating the operation of shelters in all five boroughs. In August 2011, his office launched PAWS, an online petition to overhaul AC&C that has attracted over 8,800 signatures.
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